Liberal tendencies explored

Timothy Sandoval

A recent study proposed a new theory that may explain why professors tend to be liberal.

Authors of the study, “Why are Professors Liberal,” theorized that the occupation of professor has become politically typecast. According to the study, liberals are more likely to become professors because the position is perceived as a liberal occupation.

“Professors are wrapped up with the identity of liberalism,” said Ethan Fosse, a PhD candidate at Harvard and author of the study. “It’s very difficult to separate being a professor with being liberal.”

Typecasting occupations is common in many fields, Fosse said.

Evidence from other studies indicate that occupations such as nurses and elementary school teachers are typecast, but typecast toward gender.

“People sort themselves into certain occupations, in part, based on their identity,” Fosse said. “They think: “this is the kind of person I want to be.'”

The study by Fosse and Neil Gross, associate professor of sociology at the University at British Columbia, is the first of its kind that questions professorial liberalism. Studies in the past have usually been tainted by political bias and the use of anecdotes or hearsay, Fosse said.

The study finds that many factors contribute to professors being more liberal than the rest of the population besides typecasting. Factors such as higher degree attainment; the disparity between their level of income and education; identification as Jewish, non-religious, or non-fundamentalist Protestant; and professors expressing greater tolerance for controversial ideas, all contribute to professors being liberal.

Ernest Cowles, director and professor of sociology at Sacramento State, said he thought the theory was interesting and probably true.

“If it happens I don’t think it’s deliberate or intentional,” Cowles said. “I think it’s based on the characteristics of people and how those are packaged together.”

Noam Chomsky, M.I.T. linguistics professor and political activist, said he disagrees with the description of professors as liberal.

“True, professors tend to be liberal on social issues and civil rights, rather like CEOs,” Chomsky said. “But they tend to be strong supporters of state violence and repression, again like CEOs.”

Fosse said he disagreed with Chomsky.

“Based on our studies and others, compared to the rest of the population, professors are more liberal on just about everything you can imagine,” Fosse said.

Lee Doren, a liberty activist for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said he believed the author’s theory, though valid, is incomplete.

Doren, who recently gave a lecture titled “Avoiding Liberal Indoctrination in College,” said that inherent in intellectualism is the idea that intelligent people should make decisions for non-intellectuals.

Fosse said he had not encountered any evidence that this was true.

“If anything, I suspect (professors) think knowledge and science should guide social policy,” Fosse said.

The study does not compare professors in specific disciplines based on their political ideology, but, rather, says that the occupation of professor is the most liberal of all major occupations.

This happens because conservatives and liberals often have much different motivations. Liberals are often more interested in jobs that are meaningful and serve others, while conservatives are more interested in wages and prestige in their jobs, according to the study.

In his lecture, Doren said all of America’s public schools, not just universities, were “leftists indoctrination camps.”

Cowles said he believes professors probably do carry their political views into their classrooms, but said he believes most professors will make clear their opinion from what is fact.

Timothy Sandoval can be reached at [email protected].